Right now, financial literacy is not taught in most schools. Regardless of whether you learned personal finance basics in high school, or are getting ready for freshman year, the time in your individual financial life is always now
As you take care of your own finances, it is vital that you avoid three common beginner mistakes related to debt, procrastination and taxes.
Mistake #1: Getting into Credit Card Debt Early
One of the biggest mistakes financial beginners make is the use of debt.
It is startlingly easy to obtain a credit card as a college freshman. However, it is important to resist the credit card temptation. It is common to think that it will be easy to pay back debt racked up as a student. However, it is amazing how fast that debt can add up—and how long it can take to pay it back.
Sites such as Bankingmyway and CreditCards.com offer a credit card repayment calculator that illustrates how long it can take to repay high interest debt. For instance, if you have $2,000 in credit card debt, and you make a minimum payment equal to 2% ($40 at first) of your balance per month at 19.99% interest, it will take right around 16 years to pay off the card. And you will pay $4,242 in interest on top of repaying your original $2,000. As you can see, debt doesn't pay.
When you are starting out, it is important to avoid high-interest credit card debt and use low-interest debt options carefully.
Mistake #2: Not Planning for Retirement Early Enough
One of the pitfalls of being young is the idea that there will be “plenty of time” in the future to start preparing for…the future. However, now is the time to prepare. Opening a retirement account now can mean greater financial security later. Jessica Dabrowksi writes this for brass magazine:
“Assuming a 7% annual return, $1,000 invested annually from ages 20 through 30 (11 years/$11,000) will grow to $168,514 by age 65. Wait to start until age 30, even with $1,000 put in annually until age 65 (35 years/$35,000), and it will only grow to $147,913. That's $20,601 less, even with a principal investment that is three times as high.”
You do have to be working to open a retirement account, however. Many college students have full-time summer jobs and/or part-time jobs throughout the school year. If you have a job, make it a priority to contribute something to a retirement account now. It is also a good idea to avoid procrastination in such areas as building an emergency fund, paying down debt, budgeting and learning the basics of investing.
Mistake #3: Not Thinking Enough About Taxes, Taxes, Taxes
When first embarking on your financial life, you might not know about taxes. After all, chances are that you haven’t owed taxes up to this point. However, it is important to consider the tax implications of your financial decisions. Investments, retirement accounts and even money gifts from others come with tax issues.
Before you make a decision about a retirement account, you should understand the implications of a Roth account vs. a traditional retirement account. You should also have an idea of the rules surrounding the sale of assets, from homes to stock investments, when it comes to your tax obligations.
Understand what tax deductions are available, and include these in your financial planning. The goal should be to maximize your earnings while legally reducing your tax burden. It can be worth it to speak with a knowledgeable tax professional to help you work out a financial plan that provides you with the best possible scenario.
In the end, success in your financial life depends on planning. Start thinking seriously about your finances now and you are more likely to have financial freedom later.
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